Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

In 1977, a young Luke Skywalker assisted in the destruction of the First Death Star using an exhaust port that led directly to a power source. For almost 4 decades the existence of this port was questioned, and it was dubbed on of the biggest movie plotholes of cinematic history. In 2013, following the acquisition of the Star Wars brand by Disney, a series of stand-alone films to be set in that universe was announced. They would not be directly tied to the Skywalkers of the main saga, but would instead focus on different characters at different points in time. The first of these was Rogue One: which shows how the Rebel Alliance originally came to have the Death Star plans. This is a tale that had already been spun several times in books and video games, but this variation was to act as the official story.

Jynn Erso, daughter of Imperial Scientist Galen Erso, has spent her life on the run from people who may want to use her as leverage against her father, and The Empire. When she is finally caught by The Rebels, she discovers that her father has placed a secret flaw in the Death Star and decides to join the cause in stealing the plans from the database on Skarrif. With Rogue One taking place in the week leading up to A New Hope, the biggest issue would be the inclusion of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin and princess Leia Organa. Peter Cushing had passed away in 1994 and Carrie Fisher could not portray her younger self which led to the use of body doubles and CGI. The ability to resurrect these actors through CGI really is impressive, showing just how far this kind of technology has come and I simply cannot praise it enough. Unfortunately not quite a perfected art form just yet, leading to characters that would be at home in a high definition video game cutscene, but are a little jarring when used here. The rest of the characters are likeable enough, but the real stand-outs are Chirrut, Blaze and K2SO. Chirrut is a blind Force User who, along with his heavy blaster wielding partner Blaze, provides the heart and soul of this film. Chirrut is a man who has such belief in The Force that he would be willing to die for it, while Blaze has lost that faith but still believes wholeheartedly in his friend. K2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial droid, under the management of rebel pilot Caasian Andor and is voiced with superb hilarity by Alan Tudyk. Tudyk does not appear to have become a household name, which is a shame because I find him to be one of the funniest and most versatile actors in the business. Ben Mendelsohn is also a wonderful addition to the cast, playing a villain that I just love to hate.

Many people may find Rogue One to be an unnecessary explanation of a “plothole” that has already been explained, but I disagree, as I’m happy to spend more time in the New Hope era; which has been replicated with admirable precision. The costumes, sets and sound effects are all indistinguishable from the original trilogy, but perhaps the most impressive part is the inclusion of Darth Vader, who has as little screentime here as he does in A New Hope. What he lacks in screentime, he makes up for in action. With a set piece that is, in my opinion, the best in the entire franchise. The final 6 minutes of the film’s runtime is dedicated to Vader slaughtering Rebels in a hallway, the Death Star plans just out of reach. The scene is bathed in a gorgeous red lighting and reminds me of the ventilation shaft scenes in Aliens, while the final shot of Vader on the edge of the docking bay is like a cinematic poster. This scene leads directly into the start of A New Hope and as a consequence makes it all the more amusing. Princess Leia has literally been caught red-handed with the plans for the Death Star and still tries to bluff her way out of it, which just makes her character that bit more lovable.

The main issue with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is that it isn’t an essential part of the Star Wars mythos. It could have been a half hour short film or an episode of the television show Star Wars Rebels. It is a story where we all know the ending because The Rebel Alliance clearly gets the plans, but that’s not really the point here. The ending isn’t important, it’s how you get there and as journeys go, this one is pretty good. There’s some stand out moments and characters that I’d like to see more of and, as always, the score is fantastic. It isn’t vital viewing, but I do highly recommend it.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Upon its release, this film garnered the most divisive opinions I’ve ever witnessed. It was either a return to form, as good as the originals if not better, or it was the death of the franchise and didn’t deserve to be shown to future generations. When it comes to visual media, this should not be the case, and it certainly should not become so bad that lives are ruined because of it. Films exist primarily to entertain its audience, if your opinion varies from someone else’s it should be debated in a respectful manner. Personally, though I will acknowledge The Last Jedi has faults, I find it to be a better film than The Force Awakens.

Our story continues where the last film left off, following each of our 3 main characters on their respective missions. Rey, having made it to an emotionally damaged Luke Skywalker, pleads for him to train her in the ways of the Jedi and to help The Resistance. As her training advances, her Force Connection to Kylo Ren grows stronger due to the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke. This culminates in Kylo, Rey, and Snoke in confrontation, leading to Snoke’s death and a battle sequence that may be one of the finest ever put to film. Kylo, though turning his back on the First Order, refuses to join the Jedi and wishes for Rey to join him. This third of the story works well, showing Rey growing in power whilst Kylo grows in rage. Many people, including Mark Hamill, hated Lukes character in The Last Jedi, though Hamill would go on to retract his statement. From this film’s standpoint I can understand why it was decided to treat Luke’s character this way. He is a bitter old man, jaded by the legacy of the Jedi Order and scared of Rey’s unlimited power. He has grown tired of being Luke Skywalker The Legend, which eventually leads him to dishearten Rey and in turn leads to one last lesson from Master Yoda. Returning as a Force Ghost through the use of practical effects, Master Yoda reminds Luke that the greatest lesson is failure, in a cameo that made my heart soar.

Meanwhile the 400 Resistance members who have managed to survive find themselves in close pursuit from The First order, without their leaders who have been blasted into space by a TIE Fighter. This includes General Leia Organa who, in the first canonical example of her Force powers, pulls herself back aboard the brig to safety. This scene may look silly, and it does, but it finally portrays Leia using The Force so quite frankly I don’t care how silly it looks. With the highest commanders unavailable, responsibility for the fleet falls to Admiral Holdo much to the disgust of Poe Dameron. He spends his entire plotline complaining, not doing as he’s ordered and eventually mounting a mutiny. This is cocky and arrogant, yet Poe has this boyish charm and passion to do the right thing that somehow continues to make him likeable. This third of the story also works well, showing that The Resistance isn’t just losing, but that they’ve basically already lost. They are not fighting back, they are simply trying to survive. It is a poignant display of, not only the power held by The First Order, but also that sacrifices that are made during war.

In our third plotline, Finn and new charcter Rose are attempting to hunt down a codebreaker on a casino planet who may be able to assist them in breaking into the First Orders flagship. Any issues that I have with The Last Jedi are found here, starting with our heroes escape on Fathiers (horse stand-ins). The CGI is impressive and it blends well with the sets but it fails to hold the excitement that I think it should. Though it seems to be trying its hardest, its no Podrace. Eventually, having made it onto the flagship and very nearly to the mainframe itself, the codebreaker betrays them for money, rendering this entire plotline essentially pointless. In its defense, Finn and Rose do learn a valuable lesson in that it doesn’t matter whether good or evil prevails, the true winner is always capitalism. In an ironic turns of events The Last Jedi is brought to you by Disney, who are the kings of capitalism, so draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

The final battle on Crait is glorious to behold and I feel like my words will not do it justice. The planet is red, but is covered in white salt which leads to some of the most beautiful cinematography to come out of this saga. It is the perfect ending to this film and I simply cannot say a bad word about it, so instead let’s talk about Rose. I initially thought that I hated this character but upon further analysis I realised that she’s actually a wonderful character with a lot of heart and soul. What I hate is the way in which she is used. She adds nothing to the story, and so is completely wasted. On top of that, she stops Finn from sacrificing himself to destroy the Cannon, in what would have been a highly tactical move. This could have been one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the entire franchise, but is instead ripped from us for a potential romance. Please Disney, nobody wants that.

Despite the moments I have mentioned, I think The Last Jedi is one of the best Star Wars films. It’s a good progression of its story and a perfect set-up for Rise of Skywalker. I’m highly aware that I have only touched upon the cinematography and that the score hasn’t been mentioned and that I haven’t talked about the effects. I haven’t, because I could go on at length about them, in fact I could probably dedicate entire articles to them. All 3 aspects were superb. They always are. There are wideshots in all 8 Star Wars films that could be framed and I simply cannot wait to see where Rise of Skywalker takes us.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As somebody who grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy, watching The Force Awakens is like catching up with old friends. Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, this film feels more like a Star Wars film than the prequel trilogy did, marking the return of practical effects. Whilst these practical effects were present in the prequels, they took a back seat to CGI. That is not the case here, where they are at the forefront. This gives a realism to the galaxy, making it feel like it has been lived in, and like a continuation of the same galaxy we saw in 1983. Among this nostalgia, there lies a new tale, and a new destructive space station.

Rey is a scavenger, abandoned by her family on the desolate planet of Jakku, who finds herself joining The Resistance as they hunt for the missing Luke Skywalker. Along the way she meets Finn, a stormtrooper on the run, and Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy, as well as Han Solo and Chewbacca. The Resistance is facing off against The First Order, and resident Sith Lord Kylo Ren: your stand-ins for The Sith, and Darth Vader, respectively. Upon its release in 2015, The Force Awakens was heavily criticised for being a re-hash of A New Hope. Both plots feature a resistance fighting an evil order, and whilst that is true on the surface, upon closer inspection there lie many differences.

Rey is our stand-in for Luke, but unlike him she is confident, seemingly content with her life and more than capable of fending for herself. She has no family and no mentor to guide her. Kylo Ren is emotional and driven by what he feels, as opposed to Darth Vader’s calm and menacing demeanor. On the other hand, Kylo is shown to be exceptionally powerful, stooping a blaster bolt with a wave of his hand and infiltrating peoples minds just as easily. Meanwhile Finn and Poe seem to hold no comparisons to any of the original characters, of whom many return. Han, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 are all here, continuing their own stories.

The big “Spoiler Moment” of this film is that Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo, who he promptly murders. Many had suspected that this may happen, as Harrison Ford had originally wanted to leave the franchise during Empire Strikes Back and has readily admitted that he doesn’t want to focus on his old characters. Thankfully, his death is given the gravitas it deserves, with a proper send-off from Leia and appropriate reactions of grief and anger from Rey, Finn and Chewbacca. It may have been expected, but that does not make the moment any less painful, as it’s the delivery of the moment that really counts.

The Force Awakens, at its core, is a continuation of the Star Wars Saga as well as a jumping off point for new stories and new characters. We are given closure in the fate of our original trilogy characters but the story is not focused on them, nor do I think it should be. Obi-Wan and Yoda, despite being main characters in the prequel trilogy, are barely present in the original trilogy. This is because while these (soon to be) nine films are one story, they are in three very seperate acts and as three-act films go, this is a good start. It isn’t brilliant, but after the reception that the Prequel Trilogy received, it doesn’t need to be, it simply needs to be good enough… and it is.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

*Originally published November 2015*

‘Return of the Jedi’ isn’t flawless, no film is. It tends to deviate from the main plotline quite a bit and even the first half hour isn’t entirely necessary. However many deviations are fun and action packed. Good thing too because this film can be a dark film at times. We can’t be sure that Luke won’t turn to The Sith, Yoda’s death is highly poignant and The Emperor is just pure evil. He absolutely radiates hatred. Even the Ewoks can be a tad sadistic, i mean they just turn. This makes the film even better in my eyes and one of the greatest conclusions of all time

AUTHORS NOTE

At the time this was written, we were on the cusp of ‘The Force Awakens’ which meant ‘Return of the Jedi’ was still the end of the Star Wars saga. Now here we are, months away from ‘Rise of Skywalker’ and this film still acts as a perfect bookend. The fate of our characters are wrapped up in a neat little bow and we get the happy ending that they deserve.

There is much I could say about the unnecessary additions from Lucas but one stands out the most- Force Ghost Anakin. Would I rather that Sebastian Shaw get the on-screen credit that he deserves? of course, but i understand why, for the sake of continuity, they would digitally replace him with Hayden Christiansen. To many people, everything started with the Original Trilogy but there is a generation who is growing up and watching them in chronological order, starting with ‘The Phantom Menace.’ Everybody has a different Star Wars experience, but if there is one constant opinion it’s this- ‘Return of the Jedi’ is a great conclusion for the saga. I would highly recommend picking up the 2004 DVD’s to experience the Original Trilogy in it’s original form.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

*Originally published November 2015*

This film is proof that sequels can be as good as, if not better than, the original. Thankfully it has barely been tampered with by Lucas, clearly a sign that he knew this film was excellent just as it is and I have to agree with him. The plot is neatly paced and gives us time to know our main characters but it also knows when we need an action scene. The scope for this film is huge. Not only do you see how big the Battle Cruisers and AT-ATs are but you feel the weight of their enormity. It all feels very real, which of course is what happens when you use practical effects. As for Lord Vader, a perfect villain who is terrifyingly calm but also takes no slack. Even when he does get mad he never freaks out and always seems composed much like this film. Not too over the top but quite calm, it serves as a perfect segue into Episode 6 and is a brilliant set up for a fantastic ending.

AUTHORS NOTE

4 years on and I still hardheartedly believe Empire to be not just one of the best sequels but one of the best films of all time. This review may be short but I think the enthusiasm talks bounds about this film. I will add two points though. Firstly, the soundtrack is phenomenal. I briefly touched upon it in my Attack of the Clones review but John Williams has done a stunning job with the score to every single Star Wars film. Each character has their own melody and many of them are instantly recognizable, not lest the Star Wars Theme itself. I could go on and on about the genius of his work but we’d be here all day.

Secondly I want to shine a light on the effects team. Each scale model is beautifully crafted and each lightsaber hilt is unique, yet their finest accomplishment may be Jabba the Hutt. You know he isn’t real but his husk exists and somehow that seems to be all we need. He may not move much, just his face, arms and tail but that still conveys all the putrid personality required. Infamously it would start to smell and rot due to the materials used in his building but he didn’t need to last. He was only designed to be in several scenes after all so blowing half the budget on him would just have been a waste.

Empire Strikes Back also marks The Emperors first appearance, though not by Ian McDiarmid. If you can grab a hold of the original footage it is quite worth a watch.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

*Originally published October 2015*

This was the one with the most to do. Not only did it have to conclude the prequel trilogy but it also had to tie seamlessly into the original trilogy. I think it delivered. Anakin slowly loses his mind and it’s subtle up until the point where he snaps completely and Obi-Wans heartbreak is played beautifully. The CGI and soundtrack were also bigger and better. Then there’s General Grevious, probably the best thing about this film. On the downside, the politics are back whilst so much time is spent on Anakin and Padmes relationship it hurts. Also some of the delivery can still feel a bit forced but on the whole this is a good film that neatly wraps up the story.

AUTHORS NOTE: Politics in Star Wars was something that I could complain about at the time of this review. For me, as a young teen, Star Wars was this epic action fantasy and having politics inserted into the mix just dragged it into “boring adult” territory. Now I realise that isn’t what the problem was, it was that it was ridiculously blatant in comparison to the original trilogy. Part of that is down to the writing but part of that is also down to my upbringing. I’m not an American so I wasn’t raised on American history so a Vietnam War metaphor would go right over my head. It doesn’t anymore. Every other statement in this review I absolutely stand by so I wont keep you any longer.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

*Originally published October 2015*

Actually a decent film. The casting is spot on, especially Ewan McGregor who looks like hes having a blast. The use of CGI, though controversial, is better than Episode 1 and allows for more scope and bigger battles. Speaking of battles, the lightsaber duels are spectacular, as is the musical accompaniment. The score for this film, as well as the rest of the saga, is well loved and for good reason. Its beautiful and intense. However the dialogue delivery on Anakins part isn’t great and Padmes, though improved, isn’t much better. Also their flirting is sometimes difficult to watch, due to said dialogue, but there is no denying they have chemistry. I genuinely enjoyed this film.

AUTHORS NOTE

Of the prequel trilogy, Episode 2 is in my opinion the least memorable. Before this review I would be hard-pressed to recall anything bar the Clone Facility and the Colosseum Escape. As a result, this review feels like a re-hash of the points I made about Episode 1, but whilst that film could blame Anakins poor line delivery on a child actor, this film cannot. Looking back, my opinion of this film has definitely decreased. For one, the “chemistry” between Anakin and Padme is increasingly unconvincing, which is not helped by awkward writing. Puppet Yoda is also abandoned in this film, making way for his CG counterpart, which in turn was modeled after his puppet. I understand that they wanted more movement and Jedi-like-agility and, while it works, it feels a little too controlled. A little too perfect. Out of the (currently) 8 Star Wars films, as enjoyable as this one can be, I find myself watching it the least.

Until Next Time…

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

*Originally written in October 2015*

Actually not that bad of a film. The casting is good and the score is fantastic (Mauls Theme gives me chills). The scenery as well as the lightsaber duels are beautiful. However some of the dialogue is a bit wooden and it’s more political than I think it needs to be. The use of CGI, though OK, is excessive especially when you consider the practical effects of the original trilogy. As for Jar Jar Binks, I understand he’s here “for the kids” but his speech, whiny tone and inane clumsiness is insulting to the intelligence of children. He is by far the worst thing in this film, however the film itself is alright, even though it has so much potential to be a good film.

AUTHORS NOTE Just over 3 years later, I absolutely stand by this review. However I will admit to faulting this film for being too political. I was younger and less educated than I am now and as I’m sure any Star Wars fan can tell you, the original trilogy was George Lucas’ metaphor for the Vietnam war. This film is definitely less subtle in it’s use of politics though. As the years of gone on, the fans’ avid hatred of this film has lessened slightly and for good reason. When you get over the dialogue and Jar Jar and the vast CGI, you begin to realise that the CGI is still good and even Jar Jar is due a little credit as the first fully CG character. This is still the weakest film in my opinion though.

Until next time…